Friday, July 19College Admissions News

Is Harvard Test Optional? Testing Policies for Top Colleges

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If you want to get accepted to any college in the U.S., you need to know its admissions requirements. That includes whether you’ll have to submit SAT or ACT scores! Many colleges have adopted test optional admissions policies over the past several years…but what about top schools? Is Harvard test optional? Are Ivy League schools test optional?

We know all the changes can be confusing, but we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll walk you through Harvard’s current testing policies and the testing policies at top 25 universities. We’ll also explain whether test scores still matter at test optional schools and how to make decisions about standardized testing. 

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive in. 

 

What Are Harvard’s Testing Policies? Is Harvard Test Optional? 

Test optional admissions means that a college allows the applicant to decide whether they will submit SAT or ACT scores. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Harvard adopted a test optional policy in order to make admissions fairer and more accessible. 

But what are Harvard’s testing policies today? Is Harvard SAT optional? What about the ACT? As of 2023, yes, Harvard University still uses a test optional admissions policy—and will continue to be test optional through the 2026 admissions cycle. 

Here’s what that means for you: if you apply to Harvard anytime between now and Fall/Spring 2026, you will get to choose whether you submit test scores with your application. Here’s what Harvard Admissions currently says about the test optional policy

Students who do not submit standardized test scores will not be disadvantaged in their application process. Applicants will be considered on the basis of what they have presented, and students are encouraged to send whatever materials they believe would convey their accomplishments in secondary school and their promise for the future. 

In other words, not submitting test scores won’t negatively impact your Harvard application, and submitting test scores won’t necessarily give you an advantage over students who don’t. 

But is Harvard test optional permanently? What if you’re applying after 2026?

At this point, we don’t know if Harvard will keep its test optional admissions policy after the 2026 admissions cycle. So far, Harvard has only announced official plans for testing requirements through 2026. It’s likely that they’ll continue reviewing their testing policy and announce official testing requirements for 2027 and beyond sometime in the next couple of years. 

We’ll continue to update this article as we learn more about Harvard’s testing plans for the future.

 

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When schools are test optional, you have the option to share your test scores.

 

Ivy League Test Optional 2023: Which Schools Are Test Optional? 

Now that you’re up to speed on Harvard’s testing policy, you might be wondering what’s going on with the testing requirements at other top schools. Are Ivy League schools test optional now? Like, is Yale test optional? Students may also have questions about non-Ivy schools. For instance, is Sanford test optional? 

As of 2023, the vast majority of top 25 schools in the US are still using a test optional admissions policy. Some schools have announced temporary plans to retain their test optional policies, while others have made the change permanent. In general, though, top colleges are still using test optional admissions, and some experts believe the trend will continue for years to come.

For instance, in 2023, Columbia University was the first Ivy League school to announce that it will extend its test optional policy indefinitely. The College of William and Mary has done the same. At both Columbia and William and Mary, the test optional policy has been continued in an effort to make the admissions process more equitable and inclusive.  

However, some schools that went test optional during the COVID-19 pandemic have switched back to requiring test scores. In 2022, MIT dropped its temporary test optional policy and announced a return to requiring SAT/ACT scores. Similarly, Georgetown University reinstated its SAT/ACT score requirement for admissions in 2022. These schools claim that test scores allow them to more accurately predict student success and identify talented students who may lack access to other educational advantages.  

Keep in mind that the majority of top universities remain test optional for 2023. At present, it looks like the test optional trend will continue at elite US colleges for the foreseeable future

 

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Testing Policies at Top 25 Colleges

We’ve answered the question, “Is Harvard test optional?” But what about other top 25 colleges and universities? To help you get a handle on the testing requirements at elite schools, we’ve put together a list of top 25 colleges and their current testing policies

Check it out below!

US News Rank

School 

Location

Testing Policy

1

Princeton, NJ

Test optional through 2025 admissions cycle

2

Cambridge, MA

ACT/SAT required for all applicants beginning in 2022

3 (tie)

Cambridge, MA

Test optional through 2026 admissions cycle

3 (tie)

Stanford, CA

Test optional through 2024 admissions cycle

3 (tie)

New Haven, CT

Test optional through 2024 admissions cycle; will announce a long-term testing policy in Winter 2024

6

Chicago, IL

Test optional indefinitely

7 (tie)

Baltimore, MD

Test optional through 2026 admissions cycle

7 (tie)

Philadelphia, PA

Test optional through 2024 admissions cycle

9

Pasadena, CA

Test-free/test-blind for students applying through Fall 2025

10

Durham, NC

Test optional through 2023 admissions cycle

11

Evanston, IL

Test optional through 2024 admissions cycle

12

Hanover, NH

Test optional through the 2023-2024 admissions cycle

13 (tie)

Providence, RI

Test optional through 2024 admissions cycle

13 (tie)

Nashville, TN

Test optional through Fall 2024 admissions cycle

15 (tie)

Houston, TX

Test optional indefinitely

15 (tie)

St. Louis, MO

Test optional for students entering in Fall 2023 and Fall 2024

17

Ithaca, NY

Test optional through Fall 2024

18

New York, NY

Test optional indefinitely

18 (tie)

Notre Dame, IN

Test optional through 2024 admissions cycle

20 (tie)

Berkeley, CA

Test blind indefinitely

20 (tie)

Los Angeles, CA

Test blind indefinitely

22 (tie)

Pittsburgh, PA

Test optional through Fall 2024 admissions cycle

22 (tie)

Atlanta, GA

Test optional through Fall 2023 admissions cycle

22 (tie)

Washington, DC

SAT or ACT scores required (no score choice or superscoring)

25 (tie)

New York, NY

Test optional through 2024 admissions cycle

25 (tie)

Ann Arbor, MI

Test flexible indefinitely (“Students who do not wish to have SAT or ACT scores considered as part of their application review can still submit other forms of testing (i.e. AP or IB exam scores), and these scores may be self- reported. Students who initially submit test scores can redact scores once they are submitted.”)

25 (tie)

Los Angeles, CA

Test optional; will decide on a long term standardized testing policy by Spring 2023

25 (tie)

Charlottesville, VA

Test optional through Fall 2025 admissions cycle

(Source: US News & World Report 2022-2023 Best National University Rankings)

As you can see, only two of the listed schools currently require SAT or ACT scores for admission: MIT and Georgetown. Every other school on the list is test optional for 2023. 

Also, several schools are test blind instead of test optional, which means that test scores are not used in any way during the admissions process. Even if you submit SAT/ACT scores, test-blind schools won’t view them! Caltech, UC Berkeley, and UCLA currently have test blind admissions policies. 

Based on the data in the table above, we can expect test optional admissions to continue at top schools for the next several years

 

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Do Scores Still Matter at Test Optional Schools? 

At most schools, test optional really does mean test optional. Students who don’t submit SAT/ACT scores won’t be at a disadvantage in the admissions process compared to students who do submit test scores!

However, test scores still provide meaningful information about you as a student–even at test optional schools. Schools that are test optional will look at and consider test scores if you do submit them. Good scores can only help your application, and admissions officers will use your scores to gain extra insight into your strengths and potential as an applicant! 

In general, taking the SAT or ACT and seeing where your scores stand gives you more options and flexibility in the college admissions process. Setting a solid exam prep strategy and taking the SAT or ACT early in the admissions process gives you plenty of time to decide if you want to submit your scores…or take the exam again. And if you decide to apply to schools that do require test scores, you won’t be scrambling to register for an exam date at the last minute!

SAT/ACT scores can also help you win merit-based scholarships. Many outside scholarships require test scores, and some are even awarded based on a specific score threshold. By taking the SAT or ACT, you’ll put yourself in the running for more financial aid opportunities. 

It’s also worth considering that a high percentage of applicants still submit scores to test optional schools. Many applicants still view the SAT/ACT as an opportunity to show off their knowledge and skills. In fact, the Common Application revealed that 48% of students who applied early to college in Fall 2022 submitted test scores. That’s nearly half of all early action applicants! 

At the end of the day, taking the SAT or ACT makes your college applications more versatile–and gives you more opportunities for financial aid awards. If you end up deciding not to submit your scores to test optional schools, that’s totally fine. 

 

What Are Good Test Scores for Competitive Schools? 

At elite schools, including Harvard University, test optional policies still allow applicants to submit test scores–and have them considered in the admissions process. And many students do submit their scores to test optional schools. In 2022, 56% of applicants submitted SAT scores to Princeton, and 51% sent their scores to the University of Virginia

If you’re considering submitting SAT/ACT scores to a top school, you need to know what the average scores are for admitted students. In order for your test scores to boost your application, you want to aim for SAT/ACT scores that exceed the average test scores, known as the middle 50%, for students at your choice schools

To help you get an idea of what scores to aim for, check out the table below. We break down the average (middle 50%) SAT and ACT scores for the top 25 colleges in the US!

(Table data comes from each school’s 2021-22 Common Data Set)
(** = test scores required)

Now that you know the average SAT and ACT scores for the top 25 colleges, let’s break down what they mean for you. 

Half of the students admitted to each listed school scored in the ranges you see above. This is known as the middle 50%. For instance, half of all students admitted to the University of Virginia scored between 1400 and 1510 on the SAT and between 32 and 35 on the ACT. The highest scoring admitted students scored above the 75th percentile scores of 1510 (SAT) and 35 (ACT) at UVA. 

In general, it’s a good idea to aim for test scores that are equal to or higher than a school’s 75th percentile SAT/ACT scores. So if you apply to UVA, that would mean aiming for a 1510 or higher on the SAT and a 35 or higher on the ACT.  

Scoring in the 75th percentile or higher means that you’ve scored higher than 75% of students who were admitted to a given school. That puts you in the top 25% of scorers at that school…which increases your chances of getting accepted!

To learn more about how to set a goal score for the SAT and ACT, check out our article on how to determine the best SAT and ACT scores for you. 

 

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What’s Next? 

Still not sure what test optional means? That’s okay! This article explains everything you need to know about this new trend in college admission. 

There are more schools than Harvard that currently have test optional policies. You can find a complete list of test optional schools here. 

How do you know if your test scores are high enough to send to test optional schools? We’ll explain what constitutes a good SAT score (or a good ACT score) so you can make the best decision for you. 

 

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Source: blog.prepscholar.com